NYU Dentistry, New Hampshire Collaboration Distributes Thousands of Oral Health Kits to Kids Missing Care Due to COVID-19
This week, thousands of New Hampshire children received free toothbrushes, toothpaste, and oral health tips during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a collaboration between the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Oral Health Program, the New Hampshire Department of Education, and their partnership with the NYU College of Dentistry (NYU Dentistry) school-based cavity prevention program.
NYU Dentistry is in the midst of a five-year, NIH-funded program that provides twice-yearly safe aerosol-free emergent (SAFE) dental care to approximately 11,000 children in 40 New Hampshire schools. The program’s focus is cavity prevention, as one of every three children in rural areas have cavities. The researchers are comparing two ways to prevent and arrest tooth decay.
“Bringing care to kids, rather than kids to care, increases access to care, improves children’s health, and reduces family costs, time out of school and time out of work. Traveling long distances and taking time off work is particularly difficult for families in rural areas,” said Richard Niederman, DMD, professor and chair of the Department Epidemiology & Health Promotion at NYU Dentistry and a principal investigator on the NIH-funded project.
In March, when the coronavirus forced New Hampshire schools to shift to remote learning, school-based oral health programs paused. This left thousands of children without school-based care.
“For many children, schools provide more than just an education. When schools closed this spring due to COVID-19, we realized many children would be missing out on important oral health care,” said Mary Davis, RDH, a certified public health dental hygienist with the Concord Dental Sealant Coalition and the lead hygienist on the NYU Dentistry school-based cavity prevention program.
Laural Dillon, the Oral Health Program manager at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and a stakeholder in the NIH project, used funding from her CDC oral health grant to procure oral health kits—toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, a timer, and educational materials—that could be given to families in conjunction with school food programs.
Working together, the Oral Health Program, the Department of Education, and Davis distributed 5,000 kits to New Hampshire schools serving high-need populations, including refugee children; these kits were then delivered to students’ homes.
The kits were such a success that the Department of Health and Human Services received requests for thousands more, and partnered with the New Hampshire Department of Education and the National Guard to assemble 25,000 additional wellness kits. The kits are being distributed to families across New Hampshire this month.
NYU Dentistry’s Dr. Niederman is also working with partners in New Hampshire—including the Department of Health and Human Services, New Hampshire Dental Society, Northeast Delta Dental, and Department of Education—on communication plans for SAFE dentistry in schools. Their goal is to provide essential dental care using techniques that do not produce aerosols.